The chill of the wrought iron gate handle cuts through my fingers. I struggle to release its wedged latch. Above me, iron spearheads pierce the smoggy haze in search of the full moon. The moon flickers like the turning lamp atop a lighthouse. It flickers less often than expected though, as if faulty. Teardrops, the colour of black night, appear and slither down the spears’ bars. Through the bars, I can barely make out the shadowed outlines of Cali’s grey stone house. She could have at least left one light on. That’s Cali though; I find her indifference desirable. I have no choice but to push harder. The latch finally releases, keeping the skin off several of my knuckles as a memento. Best leave the gate open.
No form of light, not even moonlight, ever reaches the dank entrance to Cali’s. She says the old prison is built of bluestone but never once have the stones been that colour. I knock on the hulking iron-clad door only to hear a dull sound instantly dissipate as if it just got lost. I wonder if the sound made it through to the other side, to Cali. Cop this door. I bang as if I’m angry till my hands lose feeling but I’m still left with no clue as to where the sound goes. Cali’s gate closes and I sense a being pace to and fro behind me. I hope the being is of a prison officer, here to protect me and not one of the prisoners in search of revenge. I glance back to see nothing. Surely, it’s just the gate’s beating shadow. I keep banging the door; my knuckles scream. By the time Cali appears, my blood has dried and become just like the other numbers scraped into the impenetrable door.
Cali’s face of white powder not only contrasts but juxtaposes with her dark hooded top.
‘Do you like my Punk Star jeans?’ She purrs.
‘Sure.’ What else can I say? I close the door.
‘Don’t lock it.’ Her voice tingles before me. ‘Grandpa might come in later.’
‘But I thought he was dead?’
‘He is.’ She shrugs. ‘Why should that stop him?’
No answer immediately comes to mind and frankly, why should it? Cali grabs my hand and squeezes tight; I flinch with a strange excitement.
She looks at my knuckles and says, ‘you didn’t have to come through the gate. Pentridge is not a prison anymore. A lot of the external walls have been knocked down.’
‘Now you tell me,’ I huff.
‘At least you didn’t fall into one of the unmarked graves.’ Cali smirks. ‘On second thought, that may have been practicable.’
I pretend to laugh as if I’m in tune with Cali.
‘One less grave to mark,’ she proudly says.
Cali leads down the hallway where one light, surrounded by shadows, dimly burns. She did leave a light on, after all. Her gauntlet is hard and cold, my knuckles numb. She lets go and places her index finger over her mouth. We approach an open door where shades of nightmares flicker against the off white walls. Screams of the hard done by, venture towards me but lose their way and peter out in the hallway’s muteness.
‘Shhh,’ Cali says, ‘Ma’s getting her nightly dose of horror.’ Cali’s platform creepers barely make a sound, I said barely.
An older lady with bones barley held in by her tight skin pauses the TV. Her hooked shaped fingers seem taut and rusty. She turns. It seems as if her cheekbones are about to penetrate her face. ‘Why don’t you introduce me?’ she says. ‘Go on, bring him in.’
I hover with Cali in the doorway before Cali says, ‘this is Damien.’
‘What a coincidence. I’m watching The Omen. Come and join me in my cell?’
‘No Ma, we’re busy.’
‘Does he talk?’
‘Of course Ma, we’re going to my cell.’
‘Sorry, if I scared you Damien. We call our room cells; in spirit with the old prison.’
‘Nothing has scared me yet,’ I finally say something. I did say yet.
Cali’s mum laughs wickedly before unpausing The Omen. Yeah, put unpause in the dictionary.
Cali leads me to her cell. Her bed of curved cream iron has the thinnest of mattresses. Sure is uncomfortable enough for my liking. Cali’s sole window is set high above us and lets no light through a dense pane of misty glass and stubby bars. I sit on the edge of the bed, ready to play. Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem, Cali’s game of choice.
‘Are you up for a game?’ Cali says and places the control from the jet black game cube in front of me.
‘I didn’t come here for a game, I came to play,’ I say, I urge.
‘Just chill a little, you. Let me play a bit first, by myself?’
‘Sure.’ I rest my hand on Cali’s knee and watch her click start game. ‘That’s freaky, the girl looks just like you, even the room looks like your place. The zombie things are out there though.’
‘Don’t be too sure.’ Cali smiles. ‘Shut up a while, OK. I need to concentrate.’
Under the guidance of a deep evil voice, Cali is shown the gruesome decapitated body of her grandfather. I pull her hood down over her face but she shoos me and continues her quest. She stumbles around a bookcase clad room for ages, changes a clock hand and eventually sits down at a desk. She opens a large tome and is hit with freaked out images of strange monsters and wild places; no doubt damaging my psyche for a moment. I said, for a moment. I look back at the game and she’s a gladiator now, at least I think she is; killing zombies down in a dungeon. I’m bored and blow intention into her ear.
‘I love the eerie music,’ she says, ‘awesome, I’m becoming green.’
I put my lips near Cali’s fluro green lips. ‘Kiss me,’ I say.
She pauses the game and we start to play.
As we kiss, I feel hunger for Cali rise from my loins and pass through my stomach into my chest. The hunger comes through in uncontrollable waves. We halt kissing with our mouths suctioned together. I don’t want any hunger to escape. Cali’s Sorrow Blue screensaver is our cue to move onto the bed. I lie down and she upon me. We kiss more, pant.
‘Have you ever done it?’ Cali says.
‘No,’ I say. ‘And you?’
Cali doesn’t answer and puts her hand down the front of my pants. This game’s finished quickly.
‘You’d better hold on a bit longer, next time.’ Cali laughs and kisses me more. ‘The toilet is the next cell on the right.’
I say nothing as I make my way there.
‘Don’t worry, I won’t tell anybody, just yet.’ I hear Cali’s voice wander about the hallway.
I open the toilet door that croaks louder than an army of frogs after heavy rain. The door has more numbers scraped into it than Cali’s front door but is less hulking. Weirdly, as I close the door behind me, it’s silent, as if the frogs have been scared into hiding. There’s no window in here but I clean up, albeit under a light that is so bright, my eyes begin to sting, seriously, this light should be put up outside. I think about Cali, my want for her returns. I motion to go back to her but there’s no door handle in here – shit. What’s with the doors in this joint?
‘Cali,’ I shout. ‘Let me out.’ I knock until the pain of my knuckles overwhelms me, a feeling you think would be comfortable by now – no. I kick the door instead. ‘Come on, Cali,’ I shout louder. She doesn’t come. It’s so cramped in here; can barely take two paces. I sit on the toilet, my hunger gone. How the hell can I get out of here? Wait a sec – my mobile. I wrench it from my pocket, ready to text Cali. No reception; perfect. In fact; no anything. Prick of a thing! I kick at the door again. ‘Cali, this is no joke anymore,’ I scream but nothing, close my eyes for a moment but still see the light. I lean back and switch it off, its pull chord wrapping around my finger like a noose for a moment. I bet she’s playing that bloody game. I’ll strangle her when out of here. If I get out of here?
Time becomes disordered in my solitary confinement; thoughts that were once of the being surround me and try their best to conquer me. I sort of doze off but spring to life as a pair of hands grab around my neck. I try to turn, to pull away but the hands are strong, my hands sweat, my arms shiver, my body whimpers.
‘Relax, I’m not going to hurt you,’ an evil voice exactly like the one of Cali’s game whispers. ‘I know you’re innocent, just like me. I just wanted to let you know how it feels. How the innocent hang. By the way, are you going to be long?’
I’m mesmerised and can’t answer. The grip of the hands eases from my neck. I reach up and feel they are gone. ‘Cali,’ I cry out. ‘Please, let me out of here.’ I kick at the door again but with less force, I feel my nails dig cold blood from the toes they sprout from. My will seems far way. ‘Cali,’ I cry again. The croaking frogs return as the door opens. I stagger out.
‘About time,’ Cali says and walks past me as if I’ve always been a permanent fixture here. I’m sure my face is as pale as the white of the hall. I stare emptily at the ajar toilet door, gathering no logical thought. The frogs croak again and Cali appears happy.
‘I’ve destroyed all the ancients,’ she says.
‘What?’ I say, bewildered to say the least.
‘The ancients of Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem; my game.’
‘To hell with your game, I’ve just had the hands of some psycho around my neck.’
Cali laughs. ‘Oh grandpa, he’s harmless. He is innocent, you know. And he did tell me you were taking far too long.’
‘If you had a bloody door handle, taking long wouldn’t be a problem.’
‘I like the sound of a bloody door handle. Show me your knuckles again.’
‘That’s it, I’m out of here.’
‘So soon, don’t you want me anymore?’
Strangely, I still want Cali but say, ‘it’s late, we’ve got Uni tomorrow.’
I turn to walk down the hall. Cali’s mum is walking toward me carrying a dull steel tray. Two ivory coloured bowls shake on the tray as she walks. She stops in front of me and offers,
‘Bowl of soup, Damien?’
I look at the grey liquid in the bowls and am reminded of the rank water, unfit for anything, which gurgles out in mothball lumps from my overused washing machine. Small bone coloured flakes resembling split macaroni and diced livery chunks that may be from a rare breed of gourmet tomato, bob up and down in the soup.
‘Your minestrone’s gone off,’ I say.
‘This is no minestrone; it’s offal and bone,’ Cali’s mum says and then laughs, wickedly of course.
I gulp, trying not to breath in the vapouring stench.
‘Go on, try some. That 10 year boy down in F Division, forgotten for over 100 years, finally got put to use.’
I push my way past Cali’s mum and she spills the soup down my front. Clumsy, old bat. I want to run but I can’t show Cali that I’m scared. Throwing up is also out of the question although it might help.
‘See you in the back row, tomorrow,’ Cali says as I speed up my walk down the hallway. I raise my hand and wave in acknowledgement but don’t turn around.
Approaching Cali’s front door, all I think is, please open, please open – It doesn’t. Cali’s mum’s laughter has chased me down the hall and taunts me. I pull and jerk at the door. I feel like bullies have battered me and they’re coming for more. I struggle to get out of what seems like a real prison. I sense that being behind me. The door finally opens. At least someone, or should I say something, knows when a joke’s gone too far. I breathe a little easier despite the smog that pushes into my face. I feel a hand tap me on the shoulder and that evil voice says,
‘Aren’t you going to say good-bye?’
I don’t answer.
‘Don’t worry, kid,’ the voice says. ‘I don’t like the grey soup either.’
I instinctively run, with my arms as swords, cutting their way through the thick mourning air and my legs as spears, piercing whatever may block my way, well, unto my foot gets caught in something and I trip over on the ash felt, ripping a hole through my jeans and opening the flesh of my knee. Geez my head hurts; I feel dizzy. I see nothing.
What the hell was that? I look at my foot to find it caught in the ribs of a skeleton. I kick the ribs away and spring up. Despite my swelling knee, I run again; slower than before. The gravel ends and I trip again, this time over a small mound into a shallow unmarked grave, twisting my ankle in the process. I lay upon the rest of the skeleton that glows a faint orange as if possessed; should be in Cali’s game. The skull looks at me from eye sockets like orange foil covered coins. I’m not going to be the one to test the chocolate inners. The foil peels itself to reveal not chocolate but pumpkin-seed like eyes. I crunch many bones, not mine for a change, as I scamper out of the freshly dug grave.
My twisted ankle hurts more than anything else and throbs as I limp towards a more intense orange glow. I’m lured by the glow coming from fiery coals at the bottom of the light tower. As I approach what looks like a furnace, pleads for help crackle like bacon in a hot pan. The closer I get to the heat the louder the pleading becomes until they screech in my ear, deafening me for a moment. I see five melting orange faces screaming at me to let them out but I’m unable to get close enough, the heat forces me to keep a distance. I ease back.
‘Jika Jika, there’s nothing like her,’ the faces chant in desperate tones.
‘Let the scum burn.’ Voices of prison guards echo from within the smog, beyond the tower.
Sweat pours from my forehead, down into my eyes; I rub and look to the furnace again. It’s too late; the faces have been vanquished and become part of the orange glow. Was I just hallucinating? Was I knocked out?
My hair feels like it’s been gelled. It stings as I pry it off my bloodied temple. I can see Cali’s gate now, its black tears have become rusty, the latch firmly back in place. I take Cali’s advice and walk around it; much quicker. I glance at my knuckles and wonder why? I walk, well actually limp, up Pentridge Boulevard against the tide of the smog. My walk seems as though it will never end and don’t ever tell Cali about me passing out. I guess everybody has a limit to the amount of blood they can take, or should I say, give.
The smog at the top of Pentridge hill thins out and I turn right down Champ Street. The moon appears unedited, allowing me to make out the time on the old prison’s clock – 4.29. I stop for a moment with my nerves ready to be repaired, my body craving rest. I move on, five minutes and I’ll be home. My mobile vibrates, scaring out of me, whatever shit I had left.
Cali’s sent me a text, ma wans to no, r u scared yet?
I text back, nx time we play @ my house.
Her response is instant. U wish!
Andrew Mansell, October 2012.